RED HOUSE, Va. -- Only on 9, a thought-provoking story about a Virginia community accused of being a terrorist training ground. The group is called The Muslims of America and some of its residents have been under suspicion by federal law enforcement and others for allegedly being "homegrown terrorists."
Reporter Andrea McCarren and photographer Joe Martin were granted rare access to one Muslim village to uncover the story behind so many inflammatory headlines.
"Oh my God, we're Americans. We were born here. Give me a break," said Matthew Gardner, the Mayor of Red House and the spokesman of The Muslims of America.
"Yes, America should be worried," saidFrank Spano of The Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Inside a mosque, in a remote Southern Virginia county that's so rural there isn't even a single stoplight, the Muslims of America bow down in prayer.
More than 7,000 miles away, in Pakistan, Sheikh Mubarik Gilani serves as their guide, the spiritual leader over this village in Red House and 21 others nationwide.
"I owe him my life," said Maryam Salaam, a resident. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be about to go to medical school. I wouldn't. I'd be in Philadelphia, living life with no hope and nowhere to go."
"We have extreme loyalty to him. He's like a father to us," said Gardner.
In fact, the Muslim cleric is so influential over his followers that he names their children. This baby girl is seven days old. Her parents anxiously await the Sheikh's name choice.
Sheikh Gilani is a mysterious figure in the Islamic world.
"He himself was a very violent and very dangerous individual," saidSpano.
He is also the man Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was meeting in 2002 when he was abducted and beheaded. Pearl was following a tip that shoe bomber Richard Reid had trained at one of Sheikh Gilani's alleged camps in Pakistan.
"It's almost to the point where we buy the story, up front. 'Oh, we're just a group of individuals of like mind, who choose to live together and defend ourselves.' Well, that was the same case as the Branch Davidians at Waco," said Spano.
Terrorism experts say The Muslims of America is a front group for a radical organization known as Jamaat al Fuqra, also founded by Sheikh Gilani.
"He's just not involved in that, he doesn't do that. He would never tell us to kill our own people. He would never tell us to do anything that would jeopardize our freedom in this country," said Gardner.
"That's dangerous. That's dangerous. That's the jihadist next door. That's where the U.S. really needs to reconsider how we address these organizations," said Spano.
"We're not about terrorism. We're about being the best people that we possibly can be and the best Muslims that we possibly can be and that's not a bad thing," said Gardner.
The Muslims of America deny any connection to al-Fuqra and we visited their village to explore the striking disconnect between Internet-fueled perception and reality.
"In many cases, that larger purpose is violence against either the US or its allies," said Spano.
"We feel normal and then..." said Ashiqah Abdulmumin. Added her husband, Munir, "You turn on the news and you read about yourself and you're like, are you serious? I just volunteered with United Way and my wife works with Red Cross, so it's like seriously?"
The group knows it's under the microscope and is sensitive about that scrutiny. That's why residents refer to the guard housee on their property as a "reception booth."
"Sometimes it's just ignorance. Sometimes people just don't know and you're afraid of what you don't know," said Ashiqah Abdulmumin.
But in Colorado in 1989, police raided a storage locker belonging to the Muslims of America and uncovered a cache of weapons.
"They've recovered assault weapons, AK-47s, M16s, M14 rifles," said Spano. "Pre-made pipe bombs, several of them were already primed and ready to fire. Also in the locker were plans for future attacks and targets."
"We have had many, many members, or ex-members that have been removed because of their history of crime. With any organization with a large amount of people, you're going to have people that are just bad apples," said Gardner.
The group is widely skeptical of the media. Throughout our visit, they videotaped -us- while we videotaped them.
"What reason would we have to hate America? I mean, we live here. This is our home," Gardner told us.
Walking down Sheikh Gilani Lane, the main road through the village, the mayor and organization's spokesman said he's baffled by the accusations.
"We denounce all forms of terrorism. Absolutely," said Gardner.
Roughly 60 people live here in modest trailer homes. Their children are home-schooled.
"It's the most beautiful thing in the world to me. Because I came from Brooklyn, New York, where everyone was an individual. And I come here, and I live in this village, and we're a family," said Garnetta Davis.
The majority of the men work in neighboring towns, as do many of the women.
"The concept of deception is key," said Spano.
After the DC area sniper attacks of 2002, reports surfaced that Red House harbored John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo between their deadly attacks.
"Really? That's news to me," said Gardner, laughing.
Today, there are 3,000 members of The Muslims of America in the U.S. and Canada.
"I think when they first came in, back in the mid 90s, early to mid 90s, there was some concern about it. Pretty much everyone's gotten used to it," said Capt. Howard Hobgood, Charlotte County Sheriff's Department. "For the most part, it's quiet. With them. So far."
We asked, "Just to be clear, the Muslims of America is not a hate group? No. Is not a terrorist group? No. Does not hate Christians? No. Does not hate Jews? Is not anti-semitic? No! We don't hate Jews."
In fact, the village itself has been targeted.
"It was very scary," recalled Gardner. "They didn't shoot from the road. They came onto the property to shoot that."
In December of last year, a trespasser pumped bullets into their sign.
"There's nothing concrete that says this is a terror compound, though there's enough circumstantial evidence that would lead one to believe that," said Spano.
"We're American citizens. We haven't broken any laws. We haven't done anything wrong," said Gardner.
"This is not a terrorist village," said Davis.
"You have to show us evidence because we don't see it here," said Capt. Hobgood.
"The US should be worried," said Spano.
Written by Andrea McCarren, WUSA9